Gender differences in workers with identical repetitive industrial tasks: exposure and musculoskeletal disorders.

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: For unknown reasons, females run a higher risk than males of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether male and female workers, with identical repetitive work tasks, differ concerning risk of disorders, physical or psychosocial exposures. METHODS: Employees in two industries were studied; one rubber manufacturing and one mechanical assembly plant. These industries were selected since in both, large groups of males and females worked side by side performing identical repetitive work tasks. Physical exposure was measured by technical equipment. Postures and movements were registered by inclinometry for the head and upper arms, and by electrogoniometry for the wrists. Muscular activity (muscular rest and %max) was registered by surface electromyography for m. trapezius and the forearm extensors (18 males and 19 females). Psychosocial work environment was evaluated by the demand-control-support model (85 males and 138 females). Musculoskeletal disorders were assessed (105 males and 172 females), by interview (last 7-days complaints), and by physical examination (diagnoses). RESULTS: Concerning physical exposure, females showed higher muscular activity related to maximal voluntary contractions [(%MVE); m. trapezius: females 18 (SD 9.2), males 12 (SD 4.3); forearm extensors: females 39 (SD 11), males 27 (SD 10), right side, 90th percentile]. Working postures and movements were similar between genders. Also, concerning psychosocial work environment, no significant gender differences were found. Females had higher prevalences of disorders [complaints: age-adjusted prevalence odds ratio (POR) 2.3 (95% CI 1.3-3.8) for neck/shoulders, 2.4 (1.4-4.0) for elbows/hands; diagnoses: neck/shoulder 1.9 (1.1-3.6), elbows/hands 4.1 (1.2-9.3)]. In 225 workers, PORs were adjusted for household work, personal recovery and exercise, which only slightly affected the risk estimates. CONCLUSION: In identical work tasks, females showed substantially higher muscular activity in relation to capacity, and higher prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper extremity, than did males.

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  • Environmental Health and Occupational Health
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-947
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Volume81
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes